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  1. The Complex Carbohydrate Research Center (CCRC) of the University of Georgia holds a symposium yearly that highlights a broad range of carbohydrate research topics. The 8th Annual Georgia Glycoscience Symposium entitled “Integrating Models of Plant Cell Wall Structure, Biosynthesis and Assembly” was held on April 7, 2014 at the CCRC. The focus of symposium was on the role of glycans in plant cell wall structure and synthesis. The goal was to have world leaders in conjunction with graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and research scientists to propose the newest plant cell wall models. The symposium program closely followed the DOE’s missionmore » and was specifically designed to highlight chemical and biochemical structures and processes important for the formation and modification of renewable plant cell walls which serve as the basis for biomaterial and biofuels. The symposium was attended by both senior investigators in the field as well as students including a total attendance of 103, which included 80 faculty/research scientists, 11 graduate students and 12 Postdoctoral students.« less
  2. The overall goal of the revised scope of work for the final year of funding was to characterize cell wall biosynthesis in developing cotyledons and in the shoot apical meristem of Arabidopsis thaliana, as a way of learning about developmental control of cell wall biosynthesis in plants, and interactions between cell wall biosynthesis and the microtubule cytoskeleton. The proposed work had two parts – to look at the effect of mutation in the SPIRAL2 gene on microtubule organization and reorganization, and to thoroughly characterize the glycosyltransferase genes expressed in shoot apical meristems by RNA-seq experiments, by in situ hybridization ofmore » the RNAs expressed in the meristem, and by antibody staining of the products of the glycosyltransferases in meristems. Both parts were completed; the spiral2 mutant was found to speed microtubule reorientation after ablation of adjacent cells, supporting our hypothesis that reorganization correlates with microtubule severing, the rate of which is increased by the mutation. The glycosyltransferase characterization was completed and published as Yang et al. (2016). Among the new things learned was that primary cell wall biosynthesis is strongly controlled both by cell type, and by stage of cell cycle, implying not only that different, even adjacent, cells can have different sugar linkages in their (nonshared) walls, but also that a surprisingly large proportion of glycosyltransferases is regulated in the cell cycle, and therefore that the cell cycle regulates wall maturation to a degree previously unrecognized.« less
  3. The central paradigm for converting plant biomass into soluble sugars for subsequent conversion to transportation fuels involves the enzymatic depolymerization of lignocellulosic plant cell walls by microbial enzymes. Despite decades of intensive research, this is still a relatively inefficient process, due largely to the recalcitrance and enormous complexity of the substrate. A major obstacle is still insufficient understanding of the detailed structure and biosynthesis of major wall components, including cellulose. For example, although cellulose is generally depicted as rigid, insoluble, uniformly crystalline microfibrils that are resistant to enzymatic degradation, the in vivo structures of plant cellulose microfibrils are surprisingly complex.more » Crystallinity is frequently disrupted, for example by dislocations and areas containing chain ends, resulting in “amorphous” disordered regions. Importantly, microfibril structure and the relative proportions of crystalline and non-crystalline disordered surface regions vary substantially and yet the molecular mechanisms by which plants regulate microfibril crystallinity, and other aspects of microfibril architecture, are still entirely unknown. This obviously has a profound effect on susceptibility to enzymatic hydrolysis and so this is a critical area of research in order to characterize and optimize cellulosic biomass degradation. The entire field of cell wall assembly, as distinct from polysaccharide biosynthesis, and the degree to which they are coupled, are relatively unexplored, despite the great potential for major advances in addressing the hurdle of biomass recalcitrance. Our overarching hypothesis was that identification of the molecular machinery that determine microfibril polymerization, deposition and structure will allow the design of more effective degradative systems, and the generation of cellulosic materials with enhanced and predictable bioconversion characteristics. Our experimental framework had been based on the idea that the most effective way to address this long standing and highly complex question is to adopt a broad ‘systems approach’. Accordingly, we assembled a multi-disciplinary collaborative team with collective expertise in plant biology and molecular genetics, polymer structure and chemistry, enzyme biochemistry and biochemical engineering. We used a spectrum of cutting edge technologies, including plant functional genomics, chemical genetics, live cell imaging, advanced microscopy, high energy X-ray spectroscopy and nanotechnology, to study the molecular determinants of cellulose microfibril structure. Importantly, this research effort was closely coupled with an analytical pipeline to characterize the effects of altering microfibril architecture on bioconversion potential, with the goal of generating predictive models to help guide the identification, development and implementation of new feedstocks. This project therefore spanned core basic science and applied research, in line with the goals of the program. Over the course of the project, accomplishments included: - Establishing platforms through reverse and forward genetics to identify and manipulate candidate genes that influence cellulose microfibril synthesis and structure in a model C3 grass, Brachypodium distachyon and a model C4 grass Setaria viridis; Identifying and characterizing the effects of a number of cellulose biosynthesis inhibitors (CBIs), and particularly those that target monocots with the aim of generating resistance loci; Developing protocols for the use of high energy X-ray diffraction (XRD) to study the structure and organization of cellulose microfibrils in plant walls, notably those in Arabidopsis and Brachypodium; Using the chemical and genetic based inhibition strategies to develop new mechanistic models of cellulose microfibril crystallization, and of how altering microfibril architecture influences digestibility.« less
  4. At the beginning of this project we hypothesized that pectin, which is a major polysaccharide in primary plant cell walls, is composed of various distinct structural regions covalently linked together into a high molecular weight complex polymer. We also hypothesized that a considerable portion of xyloglucan, the major hemicellulose in most primary cell walls, is linked to the pectin. Our goal was to determine if these interconnections exist and to characterize the exact nature of the interactions. It seems imperative that we have a complete knowledge of the structure of pectin to be able to propose realistic models of cellmore » walls. There is a lot of interest in the biosynthesis of pectin. I do not think it will be possible to completely understand the biosynthesis of pectin without knowing the structure of pectin and thus the sequence of reactions needed to put each sugar or ester in its correct position in the polymer. We made considerable progress in determining the detailed structure of pectin and within a year or so will be able to put forward a comprehensive model of it.« less
  5. The research area of biological inorganic chemistry encompasses a wide variety of subfields, including molecular biology, biochemistry, biophysics, inorganic chemistry, analytical chemistry, physical chemistry, and theoretical chemistry, as well as many different methods, such as biochemical characterization of enzymes, reaction kinetics, a plethora of spectroscopic techniques, and computational methods. The above methods are combined to understand the formation, function, and regulation of the many metallo-cofactors found in Nature as well as to identify novel metallo-cofactors. Many metalloenzyme-catalyzed reactions are extremely complex, but are of fundamental importance to science and society. Examples include (i) the reduction of the chemically inert molecule,more » dinitrogen, to ammonia by the enzyme nitrogenase (this reaction is fundamental for the production of nitrogen fertilizers); (ii) the oxidation of water to dioxygen by the Mn4Ca cluster found in photosystem II; and (iii) myriad reactions in which aliphatic, inert C-H bonds are cleaved for subsequent functionalization of the carbon atoms (the latter reactions are important in the biosynthesis of many natural products). Because of the broad range of areas and techniques employed in this field, research in bioinorganic chemistry is typically carried out collaboratively between two or more research groups. It is of paramount importance that researchers working in this field have a good, basic, working knowledge of many methods and approaches employed in the field, in order to design and discuss experiments with collaborators. Therefore, the training of students working in bioinorganic chemistry is an important aspect of this field. Hugely successful “bioinorganic workshops” were offered in the 1990s at The University of Georgia. These workshops laid the foundation for many of the extant collaborative research efforts in this area today. The large and diverse group of bioinorganic chemists at The Pennsylvania State University and our unique laboratory space are well suited for the continuation of such training workshops. The co-principal investigators of this award lead these efforts. After a smaller “trial workshop” in 2010, the Penn State bioinorganic group, led by the co-PIs, offers these workshops biennially. The 2012, 2014, and 2016 workshops provided training to 123, 162, and 153 participants, respectively, by offering (i) a series of lectures given by faculty experts on the given topic, (ii) hands-on training in small groups by experts in the various methods, and (iii) sharing research results of the participants by oral and poster presentations. The centerpiece of the workshops is the hands-on training, in which approximately half of the participants from all ranks (undergraduate students to faculty) served as teachers. In this section, the traditional roles of teachers and students were sometimes reversed to the extent that undergraduate students taught faculty in the students' areas of specialty. We anticipate that these workshops will facilitate research in bioinorganic chemistry and will help establish future collaborations among “workshop alumni” to carry out cutting-edge research in bioinorganic chemistry that will address many important topics relevant to our society.« less
  6. Our new regulatory model of cell wall biosynthesis proposes original network architecture with several newly incorporated components. The mapped set of protein-DNA interactions will serve as a foundation for 1) understanding the regulation of a complex and integral plant component and 2) the manipulation of crop species for biofuel and biotechnology purposes. This study revealed interesting and novel aspects of grass growth and development and further enforce the importance of a grass model system. By functionally characterizing a suite of genes, we have begun to improve the sparse model for transcription regulation of biomass accumulation in grasses. In the process,more » we have advanced methodology and brachy molecular genetic tools that will serve as valuable community resource.« less
  7. The biosynthesis of chlorophyll and other tetrapyrroles is a vital but poorly understood process. Recent genomic advances with the unicellular green algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii have created opportunity to more closely examine the mechanisms of the chlorophyll biosynthesis pathway via transcriptome analysis. Manganese is a nutrient of interest for complex reactions because of its multiple stable oxidation states and role in molecular oxygen coordination. C. reinhardtii was cultured in Manganese-deplete Tris-acetate-phosphate (TAP) media for 24 hours and used to create cDNA libraries for sequencing using Illumina TruSeq technology. Transcriptome analysis provided intriguing insight on possible regulatory mechanisms in the pathway. Evidencemore » supports similarities of GTR (Glutamyl-tRNA synthase) to its Chlorella vulgaris homolog in terms of Mn requirements. Data was also suggestive of Mn-related compensatory up-regulation for pathway proteins CHLH1 (Manganese Chelatase), GUN4 (Magnesium chelatase activating protein), and POR1 (Light-dependent protochlorophyllide reductase). Intriguingly, data suggests possible reciprocal expression of oxygen dependent CPX1 (coproporphyrinogen III oxidase) and oxygen independent CPX2. Further analysis using RT-PCR could provide compelling evidence for several novel regulatory mechanisms in the chlorophyll biosynthesis pathway.« less
  8. Alternaria brassicicola is a successful saprophyte and necrotrophic plant pathogen. Several A. brassicicola genes have been characterized as affecting pathogenesis of Brassica species. To study regulatory mechanisms of pathogenesis, we mined 421 genes in silico encoding putative transcription factors in a machine-annotated, draft genome sequence of A. brassicicola. In this study, targeted gene disruption mutants for 117 of the transcription factor genes were produced and screened. Three of these genes were associated with pathogenesis. Disruption mutants of one gene (AbPacC) were nonpathogenic and another gene (AbVf8) caused lesions less than half the diameter of wild-type lesions. Unexpectedly, mutants of themore » third gene, Amr1, caused lesions with a two-fold larger diameter than the wild type and complementation mutants. Amr1 is a homolog of Cmr1, a transcription factor that regulates melanin biosynthesis in several fungi. We created gene deletion mutants of ?amr1 and characterized their phenotypes. The ?amr1 mutants used pectin as a carbon source more efficiently than the wild type, were melanin-deficient, and more sensitive to UV light and glucanase digestion. The AMR1 protein was localized in the nuclei of hyphae and in highly melanized conidia during the late stage of plant pathogenesis. RNA-seq analysis revealed that three genes in the melanin biosynthesis pathway, along with the deleted Amr1 gene, were expressed at low levels in the mutants. In contrast, many hydrolytic enzyme-coding genes were expressed at higher levels in the mutants than in the wild type during pathogenesis. The results of this study suggested that a gene important for survival in nature negatively affected virulence, probably by a less efficient use of plant cell-wall materials. We speculate that the functions of the Amr1 gene are important to the success of A. brassicicola as a competitive saprophyte and plant parasite.« less
  9. Aliphatic hydrocarbons are highly appealing targets for advanced cellulosic biofuels, as they are already predominant components of petroleum-based gasoline and diesel fuels. We have studied alkene biosynthesis in Micrococcus luteus ATCC 4698, a close relative of Sarcina lutea (now Kocuria rhizophila), which four decades ago was reported to biosynthesize iso- and anteiso branched, long-chain alkenes. The underlying biochemistry and genetics of alkene biosynthesis were not elucidated in those studies. We show here that heterologous expression of a three-gene cluster from M. luteus (Mlut_13230-13250) in a fatty-acid overproducing E. coli strain resulted in production of long-chain alkenes, predominantly 27:3 and 29:3more » (no. carbon atoms: no. C=C bonds). Heterologous expression of Mlut_13230 (oleA) alone produced no long-chain alkenes but unsaturated aliphatic monoketones, predominantly 27:2, and in vitro studies with the purified Mlut_13230 protein and tetradecanoyl-CoA produced the same C27 monoketone. Gas chromatography-time of flight mass spectrometry confirmed the elemental composition of all detected long-chain alkenes and monoketones (putative intermediates of alkene biosynthesis). Negative controls demonstrated that the M. luteus genes were responsible for production of these metabolites. Studies with wild-type M. luteus showed that the transcript copy number of Mlut_13230-13250 and the concentrations of 29:1 alkene isomers (the dominant alkenes produced by this strain) generally corresponded with bacterial population over time. We propose a metabolic pathway for alkene biosynthesis starting with acyl-CoA (or -ACP) thioesters and involving decarboxylative Claisen condensation as a key step, which we believe is catalyzed by OleA. Such activity is consistent with our data and with the homology (including the conserved Cys-His-Asn catalytic triad) of Mlut_13230 (OleA) to FabH (?-ketoacyl-ACP synthase III), which catalyzes decarboxylative Claisen condensation during fatty acid biosynthesis.« less
  10. This research project is a collaboration between the Sinskey laboratory at MIT and the Worden laboratory at Michigan State University. The goal of the project is to produce Isobutanol (IBT), a branched-chain alcohol that can serve as a drop-in transportation fuel, through the engineered microbial biosynthesis of Carbon Dioxide, Hydrogen, and Oxygen using a novel bioreactor. This final technical report presents the findings of both the biological engineering work at MIT that extended the native branched-chain amino acid pathway of the wild type Ralstonia eutropha H16 to perform this biosynthesis, as well as the unique design, modeling, and construction ofmore » a bioreactor for incompatible gasses at Michigan State that enabled the operational testing of the complete system. This 105 page technical report summarizing the three years of research includes 72 figures and 11 tables of findings. Ralstonia eutropha (also known as Cupriavidus necator) is a Gram-negative, facultatively chemolithoautotrophic bacteria. It has been the principle organism used for the study of polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) polymer biosynthesis. The wild-type Ralstonia eutropha H16 produces PHB as an intracellular carbon storage material while under nutrient stress in the presence of excess carbon. Under this stress, it can accumulate approximately 80 % of its cell dry weight (CDW) as this intracellular polymer. With the restoration of the required nutrients, the cells are then able to catabolize this polymer. If extracted from the cell, this PHB polymer can be processed into biodegradable and biocompatible plastics, however for this research, it is the efficient metabolic pathway channeling the captured carbon that is of interest. R. eutropha is further unique in that it contains two carbon-fixation Calvin–Benson–Bassham cycle operons, two oxygen-tolerant hydrogenases, and several formate dehydrogenases. It has also been much studied for its ability in the presence of oxygen, to fix carbon dioxide into complex cellular molecules using the energy from hydrogen. In this research project, engineered strains of R. eutropha redirected the excess carbon from PHB storage into the production of isobutanol and 3-methyl-1-butanol (branched-chain higher alcohols). These branched-chain higher alcohols can be used directly as substitutes for fossil-based fuels and are seen as alternative biofuels to ethanol and biodiesel. Importantly, these alcohols have approximately 98 % of the energy content of gasoline, 17 % higher than the current gasoline additive ethanol, without impacting corn market production for feed or food. Unlike ethanol, these branched-chain alcohols have low vapor pressure, hygroscopicity, and water solubility, which make them readily compatible with the existing pipelines, gasoline pumps, and engines in our transportation infrastructure. While the use of alternative energies from solar, wind, geothermal, and hydroelectric has spread for stationary power applications, these energy sources cannot be effectively or efficiently employed in current or future transportation systems. With the ongoing concerns of fossil fuel availability and price stability over the long term, alternative biofuels like branched-chain higher alcohols hold promise as a suitable transportation fuel in the future. We showed in our research that various mutant strains of R. eutropha with isobutyraldehyde dehydrogenase activity, in combination with the overexpression of plasmid-borne, native branched-chain amino acid biosynthesis pathway genes and the overexpression of heterologous ketoisovalerate decarboxylase gene, would produce isobutanol and 3-methyl-1-butanol when initiated during nitrogen or phosphorus limitation. Early on, we isolated one mutant R. eutropha strain which produced over 180 mg/L branched-chain alcohols in flask culture while being more tolerant of isobutanol toxicity. After the targeted elimination of genes encoding several potential carbon sinks (ilvE, bkdAB, and aceE), the production titer of the improved to 270 mg/L isobutanol and 40 mg/L 3-methyl-1-butanol. Semicontinuous flask cultivation supplied the cells with sufficient nutrients while minimizing the toxicity caused by isobutanol. Under this cultivation, the R. eutropha mutant grew and produced more than 14 g/L branched-chain alcohols over the duration of 50 days. These results demonstrate that R. eutropha carbon flux can be redirected from PHB to branched-chain alcohols and that engineered R. eutropha can be cultivated over prolonged periods of time for product biosynthesis. While this bioengineering work was being done at the Sinskey laboratory at MIT, the researchers at the Worden laboratory at Michigan State were working on the design and construction of the required specialty bioreactor for incompatible gasses (BIG) that would allow the safe feeding of microbes on Carbon Dioxide, Hydrogen, and Oxygen without explosive results. The early design and assembly work in year 1 incorporated a novel microbubble generator to maximize the bioavailability of gasses within the system comprised of small scale hollow fiber reactors. The early success of the microbubble generator eliminated the need to investigate potentially toxic surfactants within the system. For operational control, the system design incorporated a Opto22-based control network. The researchers also selected the specific hollow fiber material suitable for the bioreactor application. A variety of commercially available hollow fiber membranes were compared with regard to their pore sizes, cell affinity, and potential interference to cell viability assays. The selected membrane with its spongy layer was then tested for diffusivity of O2 and CO2. The instrumented system was then fully assembled for experimentally measuring the heterotrophic growth rate of immobilized R. eutropha cells. The requisite procedures for inoculation, measurement, and cleaning were established enabling the system performance to be validated under controlled laboratory conditions. In year 2, the researchers completed the Opto22 based cross-platform control network, and the system’s communications across the Sartorius fermentation system and Bruker gas chromatograph was established via open platform communications (OPC) protocol. Using the revised system, measurements were taken of the R.eutropha cell growth rate and substrate mass transfer rate in the hollow fiber membrane. Several IBT recovery strategies were explored and resin adsorption was determined to be optimal solution for lab scale operations. The adsorption capacity of the resin column was then measured and IBT desorption using methanol has been demonstrated. With the growing body of experimental data in hand, mathematical models were constructed to demonstrate and map the cellular kinetics, mass transfer of heterotrophic and autotrophic substrates in the hollow fiber, and the adsorption process in the resin column. A structured kinetic model was constructed to describe the competition between cell mass generation and IBT production. The reactor was then scaled up from single fiber to a membrane area of 180 cm2 and then further to 1 ft2. In Year 3 of the research, the IBT mass transfer across the membrane was characterized within the system with experiments to empirically measure the IBT diffusion coefficient in the BIG spongy layer. Using the refined mathematical models, the researchers are now able to explain the experimental observations and predict bioreactor performance under a wide range of experimental conditions. The Big system is able to demonstrate continuous controlled operations with the integrated IBT recovery system. Both heterotrophic and autotrophic production have been shown during continuous operation with heterotrophic and autotrophic stages. Performance of BIG system has been measured during continuous run with alternating heterotrophic growth on fructose and autotrophic product formation on H2, CO2, and O2. Volumetric productivities of IBT at 325 mg/(L day) and of 3M1B at 50 mg/(L day) were achieved, which were comparable to that achieved under heterotrophic conditions. Using the mathematical model, researchers are able to predict system performance for scaled-up BIG system. The apparent diffusion coefficient of IBT in the spongy layer of XM-50 hollow fiber membranes has been measured at various lumen liquid flow rates. The experiment is simulated in COMSOL to validate the results. The constructed COMSOL model is able to simulate BIG system performance in both batch and continuous mode. Mathematical simulations of the system performance have been run to identify the most crucial operational conditions, identifying the rate-limiting factors in autotrophic production of IBT, and quantitating the rate of IBT catabolism. Investigations of the productivity of the production system have suggested and the modeling of the system has revealed a particular sensitivity to the catabolism of the produced IBT by the engineered R. eutropha. Experiments have been designed and executed to quantify the IBT catabolism of R. eutropha, which open up possibilities for further system improvements through future, targeted bioengineering of the strain. Finally, the researchers at Michigan State performed an economic analysis of the system, based on the collective results, and their findings are presented in full within the report.« less

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